Thursday, 24 September 2015

LOVE AND MONEY by A. R. Gurney at the Signature

     Non-writers may not realize that ending a play is just about the hardest part of writing. Perhaps this is why people are so seldom satisfied with the ending of a favorite long-running television series. The ending never seems convincing. My favorite television finale is the last episode of THE SOPRANOS--it allowed for a number of possible scenarios. I mention this because I was with A.R. Gurney's enjoyable, very thin, short play LOVE AND MONEY until the last five minutes, which gave us a patently false ending.
     In LOVE AND MONEY wealthy society matron Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), is selling off her possessions and assigning her large fortune before going into a retirement community. Cornelia, who seems to have almost limitless wealth, has decided that money is the root of all evil. She's going to atone by giving everything to charity. Her anxiety-prone attorney (Joe Paulik), is worried that her grandchildren (her children are dead) will contest the will. Everything seems fine until word comes of an illegitimate grandchild, offspring of a prodigal daughter, who would like a share of the money. Walker Williams, said grandchild, suddenly appears on the scene--there's a fairytale quality to this play. Walker (Gabriel Brown), is African-American. Is he truly Cornelia's grandson or a charming con man? The script mentions John Guare's SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION in which a young Black man ingratiates himself into a wealthy New York household by claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son. Gurney's play is nowhere near as dark or complex as Guare's. It's the sort of play that used to be labeled "boulevard comedy" and was standard repertoire for summer theatres like the Westport Country Playhouse, which co-produced LOVE AND MONEY. Like a good desert, it was enjoyable without being at all nourishing. The play skimmed over the issues of race and class that should be crucial. I won't be too much of a spoiler, but at the end the white aristocrat who supposedly has become socially conscious blithely decides the fate of the Black man, which he happily accepts even though it is not what he wanted. The play seems to say that despite any moral enlightenment, once a WASP always a WASP and that we in the audience should be charmed by that assertion. The old white aristocrat and the young Black man dance to Cole Porter and all is well. What century is this?
     Still, as I said, enjoyable. Maureen Anderman is a joy, Joe Paulik and Pamela Dunlap are excellent as the worried lawyer and the ever-faithful, wry servant (another character out of mid-20th century stage and film comedy). Gabriel Brown didn't suggest any depths to the young Black visitor, but Gurney hadn't written any for him to play. Mark Lamos directed ably on Michael Yeargan's lovely set.
     With a starry cast, perhaps Claudette Colbert as Cornelia, LOVE AND MONEY could have been Broadway fare in the 1950s. Does it belong at the Signature now and at 70 minutes it's a bit of a cheat. Maybe next the Signature will revive THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE?
LOVE AND MONEY. Pershing Square Signature Center. September 23, 2015.

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